Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

On the Biomedicalisation of the Penis: The Commodification of Function and Aesthetics

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

On the Biomedicalisation of the Penis: The Commodification of Function and Aesthetics

Article excerpt

This paper explores contemporary understandings and representations of the penis. It presents an overview of recent trends which re-frame long-standing penile anxieties within a new hybrid world of health and aesthetics. It explores these apparent changes through the lens of biomedicalisation. By focusing on constructions of masculinities in crisis, changes in the representability of the penis and the effects of Viagra, it suggests that contemporary penile pathologies and anxieties are being constructed and commodified. In the past medical discourse has focused primarily upon the 'traditional 'functionality of the penis, more recently it has focussed upon pharmaceutical innovations such as Viagra. However, we suggest that now there appears to be the emergence of a new penile discourse, a penile aesthetic that focuses upon penile appearance as much as function. This shift has been facilitated by the Internet, the deregulation of pornography and changes in sexual mores.

Keywords: penis, aesthetics, pathology, masculinities, biomedicalisation

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Given its cultural significance as a key marker of both masculinity and men's corporeality, there is a relative dearth of historical work relating to men and their penises within the social sciences (for a notable exception see Friedman, 2003); yet within both the medical field and within broadly psychoanalytic work there is extensive literature. Partiality and specificity resonate with wider sociocultural penile discourses. For example, it has been said that the penis is simultaneously everywhere yet also seemingly nowhere, culturally salient but equally invisible or hidden (Stephens, 2007). In this paper we critically examine the variety of discourses concerning the penis and through this argue that the historic inviolability of the male penis is now changing. Whilst the penis has traditionally fallen under the gaze of discourses of medicalisation, with a focus on function over personal meaning, it is apparent that new discourses are emerging, which whilst broadly within the realm of the biomedical, and therefore enmeshed with technoscientific developments, also require an extension of biomedicalisation theory (Clarke et al., 2003) to incorporate discourses of the aesthetic. Our aim in this paper is twofold: (1) to detail the extant medicalised discourse of the penis in the context of hegemonic masculinity and (2) to highlight the emergence of a new aesthetic discourse of the penis, which operates at the boundaries of both the "new paradigm of health" (Beck & Beck-Gersheim, 2001; Becker, 1986; Nettleton, 2006) and "biomedicalisation" (Clarke et al.). This case offers up another example of the changing landscape concerning men's bodies and the consequent new challenges facing men in the context of biomedicalisation and the feminization of health (Moore, 2010).

Biomedicalisation offers a conceptual framework within which complex networks and agents constitute, and are constituted by, novel, and often highly technologically mediated, processes of medicalisation (see Clarke et al., 2003). It is arguably the most worked through theoretical perspective within the context of what has been called the new paradigm of health (Beck & Beck-Gersheim, 2001; Becker, 1986; Nettleton, 2006). It captures the fluid, technological and expanding repertoire of processes, structures and disciplines now appropriated into the exercise of what could be called biopower (Foucault, 1980), and what has been described as the production of the biosocial (Rabinow, 1992), wherein the psychosocial and the sociocultural are increasingly constituted through the biomedical. Central tenets of biomedicalisation, as opposed to medicalisation, are a focus upon medicalising health (as opposed to illness), the central involvement of commerce and industry and what has been termed technoscience. The pursuit of health presents one major and critically lucrative aspect of biomedicalisation; its necessary un-attainability representing a key driver for both commodification and governmentality. …

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